Q: Three windows in my 12-year old townhome had condensation in them. A “friend of a friend” referred me to an independent contractor (“Robert”) who could replace the windows.

Robert has his own remodeling business. I asked him if he could just repair the seal/ windows, since that would be much less expensive. The townhomes in my neighborhood did not increase much in value when real estate was soaring, so now the values have really suffered, and I hated the thought of spending more than $1,000 on new windows in a house that would probably not sell for much more than what I paid for it 12 years ago ($120,000).

Resale is critical for me, because I’d like to sell and buy a home closer to work. So I want my house to be in good repair, but I won’t recover the money if I over-spend.

I stressed all of this to Robert, but he down-played the idea of repairing the windows, saying the repair “wouldn’t last.” I asked him to come out to measure the windows, and give me a quote, but he was a bit pushy, and instead of just getting a quote I ended up signing a contract to buy three new windows and paying him a $350 deposit on a $1,050 window order.

I had hoped to continue my search for someone to repair (not replace) the windows. When Robert’s employee and his partner brought the windows out in early December, he (the employee) was smoking in my front yard and reeked of cigarette smoke, and frankly I did not want him bringing those fumes into my very small townhouse. I told him I’d have to reschedule with an installer who did not smoke. I called Robert, and he said he would find someone else.

Since December, we’ve set at least three dates to install the windows and not only didn’t they show up, Robert never called.

As it turns out, Robert only has one employee, and he said that he was having a hard time finding an installer who didn’t smoke because “everyone in this business smokes.” If I hadn’t signed a contract with this guy, I would have said forget it, chalked the $350 up to loss, and started over with the search for someone to repair the windows.

They finally came. One of the installers looked at my windows and said the glass could have just been replaced. I almost went through the roof.

They begged me to not tell Robert that I heard that comment from them (which I understand, they do business with this guy). My original windows were single-hung; the new ones were double-hung, and one of the installers had to go back to their shop to get some additional parts. Also, when they unloaded the windows from the truck, they saw that one of them was cracked.

The whole thing was a nightmare. I’m going to have to write a check for the remaining $700 for this work, and I am not happy about it. The windows look good but I feel like they are a $1,050 correction to what was probably a $400 problem.

I don’t want Robert putting a lien on my home for failure to pay the full contract amount, but in light of what has transpired, do I have the right to negotiate a lower payment? Do I just chalk this up to a $1,050 lesson learned?

I am really irritated with him over what I feel was his misrepresentation of what needed to be done to fix the broken seal and his employees’ total disregard for my time when they didn’t show up nor call on the prior attempts.

A: There were all sorts of red flags on this little home repair project and I can’t figure out why allowed yourself to be talked into a repair you didn’t want with a professional you didn’t trust.

I’m also unclear from your long email whether you actually signed a contract with this guy, whether he delivered as promised, and for the price agreed upon.

If you signed a contract and he ultimately lived up to the contract, you may have to pay him. If he didn’t, that’s your negotiation power.

But, please don’t do things with a handshake – you already know this guy can’t be trusted. You should talk to a real estate attorney about having this guy sign a lien waiver before you pay him. Once you have a lien waiver and you have paid him, he can’t file a lien.

When searching for a contractor for a small job like the one you had, you could have tried a handyman service. Some home improvement stores sell windows and also have installation services. In larger townhome association complexes, the manager of the complex usually has the name of the company that can provide the windows and an installation company that can provide the service.

If that doesn’t work, you can also try online referral services that are reliable in your area. Be sure to run a Google search and a Better Business Bureau check on anyone you’re considering – before you sign on the dotted line.

While I’m not saying never use a recommendation that comes from a “friend of a friend,” you owe it to yourself to do a little more checking. You should have called the person making the recommendation directly and chatted with him or her about the scope of the job and the services provided.

For some of our readers in the past, getting a referral from a friend of a friend fails to come with the very necessary information that the person being referred wasn’t that good at all.

Good luck – and next time, please don’t allow yourself to be talked down to by someone you’re paying to do good work. And if you don’t want to spend $1,000, please go find someone who will do only the work you want to pay for.

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